Maternal diet influences fecundity in a freshwater turtle undergoing population decline

Kristen Petrov, James U. Van Dyke, Arthur Georges, Claudia Keitel, Ricky John Spencer

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Food availability determines the amount of energy animals can acquire and allocate to reproduction and other necessary functions. Female animals that are food limited thus experience reduced energy available for reproduction. When this occurs, females may reduce frequency of reproductive events or the number or size of offspring per reproductive bout. We assessed how maternal diet affects reproductive output in adult female Murray River short-necked turtles, Emydura macquarii, from four wetlands in Victoria. We previously found that turtle diets differ in the composition of plants and animals between our study wetlands. In this study, we tested whether differences in turtle diet composition (i.e. plants and animals) at these wetlands were associated with differences in clutch mass, individual egg mass, bulk egg composition and hatching success. We found total clutch mass increased with maternal body size at each site. At sites where filamentous green algae were scarce and E. macquarii were carnivorous, females produced smaller clutches relative to body size compared to females from sites where algae were abundant, and turtles were more herbivorous. Individual egg mass, bulk egg composition and hatching success did not differ across wetlands. Isotopic analysis revealed significant positive relationships between the carbon and nitrogen isotopes (δ13C, δ15N) of the eggs and those of the mothers, indicating that mothers allocated ratios of carbon and nitrogen isotopes to their eggs similar to those present in their tissues. Our study suggests that at sites where females are more carnivorous due to a relative absence of algae, females produce smaller clutches, but other aspects of their reproduction are not significantly impacted. The reduction in clutch size associated with differences in the availability of dietary plants and animals may have long-term consequences for E. macquarii and other freshwater turtle species that are experiencing population declines.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbercoae033
    Pages (from-to)1-12
    Number of pages12
    JournalConservation Physiology
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - May 2024


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